HC Deb 04 November 1974 vol 880 cc682-3
37. Mr. Cryer

asked the Attorney-General if he will introduce legislation defining the position of the Press with regard to contempt of court.

The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)

Legislation in this field is a matter for my noble Friend. He will wish to hear the views of the Press and the public on the Phillimore Report on Contempt of Court before deciding what, if any, changes should be made in the law. Publication of the report has been seriously delayed by printing difficulties, but it is hoped to publish it before the House rises for Christmas.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, irrespective of the Phillimore Report, legislation is urgently required to define the position of the Press, because the recent decision has curbed the right of free expression in the Press, which is very important? Does he not accept that where the courts are asked to make decisions this tends to work in favour of those with money because of the expense of going to the courts? Does he not accept that the recent appalling judicial decision in the case of Eric Tomlinson and Des Warren indicates that the courts are not the best place to go to when decisions affecting our basic freedoms are concerned?

The Attorney-General

It is much better that the general question of contempt of court should be dealt with as a whole after publication of the report, and after the Press, the public and the House have had the opportunity of examining the report and, possibly, of debating it.

As regards the question of means, subject to legal aid it is a truism that those who have greater means are more easily able to afford court proceedings. The whole purpose of legal aid is to try to equalise the burden. With regard to the third point which my hon. Friend made, I will certainly look at the case which he mentioned.

Mr. Buck

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why the Phillimore Report has not been published when so many reports of far lesser importance were published immediately before the election?

The Attorney-General

As I explained in my original answer, publication of the report has been seriously delayed by printing difficulties. I certainly hope that it will be published before Christmas and that the House will have an opportunity to debate it.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the case involving Paul Foot has caused many journalists serious concern since somebody can be sentenced by the court for no known statutory offence? When will he bring forward legislation to clear up this whole area and define in black and white what journalists are and are not allowed to report?

The Attorney-General

The fact is that, until Mr. Foot issued his challenge to the existing practice, journalists had always taken and supported the view that the names of alleged victims of blackmail ought not to be disclosed, for obvious reasons. I can assure my hon. Friend that all the factors in this not easy matter, including the boundaries within which names should be disclosed in court—because there are other possible cases where it may be an advantage that they should not be disclosed—will be under discussion in the light of the Phillimore Report.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say at what date the Phillimore Report was received for the purpose of printing?

The Attorney-General

I can say that I received it somewhere about the month of August. I cannot say when it was received by my noble Friend.

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